Luciana Frazier v. Arkansas Department of Correction

Annotate this Case




September 14, 2005









Olly Neal, Judge

Appellant Luciana Frazier brings this pro se appeal from the decision of the Arkansas Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) denying her claim for benefits. On appeal, appellant asserts that (1) the Commission erred in finding that she "failed to prove her case by a preponderance of the evidence" and (2) the Commission erred in failing to make its own findings of fact.

Appellant worked as a correctional officer for the Arkansas Department of Correction. She alleges that, on September 24, 2000, while conducting a security check, she sustained a closed-head injury when hit by an unidentified object that was thrown by an inmate. Appellant testified that she became dazed and confused. She did not remember showing anyone her injury but testified that she informed Lieutenant Sumner and another correctional officer about the incident. Appellant said that, despite her confusion, she completed her shift. On September 26, 2000, appellant was seen at Southwest Behavioral Clinic by Dr. Ella Williams. She was diagnosed with depression and psychosis. In October 2000, appellant was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizo-effective disorder bipolar type. Appellant testified that the incident caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown with headaches. She also said that she had difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Appellant stated that, before the incident, she never experienced confusion or paranoia.

Lieutenant Sumner testified that he did not work on September 24. He recalled reporting to work on September 25 at 5:58 a.m. He did not recall working with appellant or appellant reporting an incident to him. Lieutenant Sumner said that, on the day before the hearing, he checked the security folders and found that appellant had noted an incident on September 24.

In support of her claim, appellant submitted the following medical evidence. In a letter dated March 16, 2004, Dr. R. Greg Wooten wrote the following to appellant:

You had requested that I write you a letter addressing the question, Was It Possible For A Head Injury To Cause Your Mental Diagnosis? I have been treating you since approximately April, 2003. In that time, I have not been aware of any significant head injury. Symptoms similar to ones you have can be experienced by those people who have experienced certain types of head traumas. It is impossible to know exactly what symptoms could be related to that or what symptoms are related to a primary psychiatric disorder.

Appellant also submit the results of her June 12, 2002, MRI. The MRI revealed the following:

In the left frontal subcortical white matter, there is a small less than 5 mm focus of high signal intensity on the FLAIR image #17 of series #4. This is a nonspecific finding. This could be secondary to white matter shear injury in this setting or a history of head trauma if this was significant trauma. This would not be the typical location of an MS plaque. Migraine headaches could produce a similar white matter focus. Finally, this may be idiopathic of no clinical significance. On post contrast images, there are no abnormal enhancing lesions. The brainstem, cerebellum, and craniocervical junction are normal.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) found that appellant could not meet her burden of proof and denied appellant's claim. The full Commission affirmed and adopted the decision of the ALJ. From that decision comes this appeal.

In reviewing decisions from the Workers' Compensation Commission, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the Commission's findings, and we affirm if the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Arkansas Methodist Hosp. v. Hampton, Ark. App. , S.W.3d (Mar. 23, 2005). Substantial evidence exists if reasonable minds could reach the same conclusion. Wallace v. West Fraser South, Ark. App. , S.W.3d (Feb. 16, 2005). When a claim is denied because the claimant has failed to show an entitlement to compensation by a preponderance of the evidence, the substantial-evidence standard of review requires us to affirm if the Commission's opinion displays a substantial basis for the denial of relief. Id. In making our review, we recognize that it is the function of the Commission to determine the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. Watson v. Tayco, Inc., 79 Ark. App. 250, 86 S.W.3d 18 (2002).

Although it is appellant's second argument, we begin by first addressing her contention that the Commission erred when it failed to make its own findings of fact. Here, the Commission affirmed and adopted the findings and decision of the ALJ. When an ALJ has made sufficient findings of fact, the Commission may specifically adopt the findings of fact made by the ALJ. Lowe v. Car Care Mktg., 53 Ark. App. 100, 919 S.W.2d 520 (1996). In the present case, the ALJ made sufficient findings of fact, and it was appropriate for the Commission to adopt those findings as its own. Thus, because the findings and conclusions of the ALJ are also the findings and conclusions of the Commission, we consider both the ALJ's order and the Commission's order in our review. Swaim v. Wal-Mart Assocs., Inc., Ark. App. , S.W.3d (May 25, 2005).

Appellant next argues that the Commission erred when it found that she failed to prove her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. The employee in a workers' compensation case has the burden of proving a compensable injury. Morales v. Martinez, Ark. App. , S.W.3d (Nov. 10, 2004). A compensable injury must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102 (4)(E)(i) (Supp. 2003). A compensable injury is defined as an accidental injury causing harm that arises out of and in the course of employment and which requires medical services. See Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102 (4)(A) (Supp. 2003). A compensable injury must be established by medical evidence supported by objective findings. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102 (4)(D) (Supp. 2003); Crawford v. Single Source Transp., Ark. App. , S.W.3d (June 30, 2004). Objective findings are those findings which cannot come under the voluntary control of the patient. Ark. Code Ann. § 11-9-102(16) (Supp. 2003). In order to prove a compensable injury the claimant must prove, among other things, a causal relationship between his employment and the injury. Crawford v. Single Source Transp., supra.

In their order, the Commission and ALJ wrote:

The evidence of record shows the claimant cannot meet her burden of proving any incident happened at work. There are no witnesses who can confirm an inmate disruption; she did not seek medical attention for a head injury; and she did not mention a head injury to her psychiatrist as the origin of her problems. Accordingly, I find the claimant cannot meet her burden of proving an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment which caused physical harm and required medical treatment. Assuming arguendo, the claimant is regarded as a victim of a crime, assault and battery, no physical injury would be required, but the claimant would still have to meet the requirement of a causal connection between her employment and her present condition. None of her physicians offered an opinion on causation within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. Furthermore, Dr. Wooten does not refer to the DSM criteria in making his diagnosis and therefore, the claimant cannot meet this additional element of proof.

After reviewing the lack of corroborating evidence of any incident at work and any physical head injury combined with evidence that her psychiatric problems began before the date of the alleged incident at work, I find the claimant has failed to meet her burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

(Internal citations omitted.)

After viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the Commission, we agree with the Commission. Appellant fails to establish a causal link between her injury and her employment. Therefore, the Commission's decision denying benefits is supported by substantial evidence, and we affirm.


Hart and Vaught, JJ., agree.